All hail working women -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

All hail working women

Karachi:Sixty years down, and people all around keep complaining about how they have been let down by the sad state of affairs in the country.

Nevertheless, we cannot ignore the fact that growth in the public sector has enabled this very city to provide employment to countless women. Trends in employment have changed over the last decade as women from the lower and lower-middle class are no longer compelled to work as labourers in factories.

Employment in banks, restaurants and call centres is among the numerous avenues open to them today. Here, women are now able to benefit from a productive labour market and technological advancement.

Gender inequality no longer inhibits a woman’s access to the workplace and hence the ‘weaker sex’ has now become part and parcel of the workforce. Similarly, mobility is no longer an issue as one can spot women commuting in public transport even after sunset.

However, it is hard to determine whether these changes have taken place because women are now more career-oriented or on account of the increasing rate of inflation. Shameim Kazmi, National President

Association of Business, Professional and Agricultural Women, believes it is the former. “Today Karachi is a business hub. People migrate here in search of better employment opportunities. Women from interior parts of provinces choose to come here. Away from their conservative families who will not permit them to work in the village, they have the liberty to work in the city,” she said.

There are better employment opportunities for women in the private sector and the male dominated work environment has now become more accepting of female employees, which Kazmi views as sign of progress. “Women have become financially independent and subsequently more opinionated. One can observe this in the attitude of housemaids, who now dictate terms to their employers. They realise that their employers are dependent on them and are not willing to compromise on lower wages. This shows how aware women have become,” remarked Kazmi.

According to the 2007 report of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER), female participation (of 10 years and above) in employment has shown an increasing trend since 2001-02. During 2005-06 it rose to 41.1 per cent from 37.7 percent in 2001-02. Political participation of women has also improved. Now, 33 per cent of the seats in local councils are reserved for women. Similarly, 21 per cent of the seats in parliament and 17 per cent of those in the senate are reserved for them.

Although women’s wages continue to remain less than those of their male counterparts, the gender gap has reduced considerably. “Mobility has always been an issue for women in Karachi who fear being harassed during late night hours. However, when the private sector began to offer conveyance along with a handsome salary, women no longer had any reason to refuse and parents became more accepting of the trend as well,” said Uzma Aslam, who has been a supervisor at a fast food outlet for the past ten years.

When she first joined the restaurant, there were not many female colleagues but the situation has changed over the years. Women can now interact with men more confidently. Although Aslam complained about harassment in public buses and workplaces which forces many to quit their jobs, she is optimistic about the future of working women in Pakistan. In fact, she is of the opinion that it is women who bring discipline to the workplace.

Unfortunately, the public sector has failed to provide women with opportunities due to political influence within the sector. According to Kazmi, the recent test conducted for the recruitment of primary teachers in government schools, for which 5,000 candidates were present, was not based on merit. Instead, seats were reserved for members of each political party. “Women who do not wish to side with any political party are always singled out so you can’t really say that job opportunities are the same for all. Politics is involved in every public sector and I see no betterment in the future,” she said.

An increasing trend of working in beauty parlours has also been observed over the years where women feel more comfortable. “It is a lucrative business as women [both young and old] have now become more conscious about their looks. This is why as soon as a girl gains experience of working in a parlour for a few months, she opens an independent parlour in her neighbourhood,” added Kazmi.

A few such beauticians confessed that working in a parlour is more than a job. It is a place where women socialise and learn about each other’s lives and this keeps them interested in the business, they revealed. However, in many cases, this attractive business also distracts them from pursuing their studies further.

Since factories and establishments prefer young, unmarried female workers to avoid situations where the question of maternity benefits may arise, married women in poor localities are often observed sewing clothes or resorting to other such activities to earn money.

Rise in female employment and growing determination among women in Karachi are hence positive signs for the business sector. These prove that the participation of women in the workforce can no longer be ignored.
Source: The News
Date:8/22/2007